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Columbus Blue Jackets Make 24-Team Playoff As Part Of NHL's Return

Columbus Blue Jackets John Tortorella head coach John Tortorella.
Kamil Krzaczynski
Columbus Blue Jackets John Tortorella head coach John Tortorella.

The Columbus Blue Jackets will face the Toronto Maple Leafs in a playoff qualifying series under a return to play plan announced by the NHL on Tuesday. NHL commission Gary Bettman says Columbus is also on a shortlist of cities that could host part of the 24-team tournament.

The NHL unveiled a 24-team playoff format if it returns to the ice this summer. Many questions remain unanswered as the pandemic plays out in North America.

NHL players could potentially begin returning to their team facilities in limited numbers next week. That would be followed by three-week training camps to open no sooner than July 1.

The matchup between the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs would be a best-of-five series as part of the qualifying round involving eight teams from each conference. The winners of the qualiying round series would then take on the one of the four highest seeded teams in each conference. 

The games will be played in two yet-to-be determined hub cities. Columbus is one of 10 cities under consideration to host the games. 

Bettman said the decision on the hub cities and when play will begin will depend on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations. A comprehensive system for testing will be in place in each hub city, and each team will be permitted to travel a maximum of 50 people including players, coaches and staff.

Bettman anticipates the playoffs taking place over the summer and into early fall.